Master Presenting

Stop The Awkwardness—Present with Confidence

Brené Brown and the Heart of Presenting

I get asked all the time, “What does it take to be a good presenter? What’s the secret?” I usually scratch my head. In all of my experiences presenting, learning the craft, bombing, stumbling and enjoying the audience, there has never been a secret to presenting, no guru whispering in my ear saying, “This is the secret to great presenting, listen well.” And then he stumbles off into the the night looking for an Outback Steakhouse.

But I think there are components of being a good presenter, aspects that run true in speakers that inspire the audience. Brené Brown, in her landmark TEDx Houston talk, explains what it means to be wholehearted. And she describes the components of being wholehearted, these characteristics that every presenter needs if she or he is going to connect with an audience. 

Vulnerability: Great speakers tell stories that don’t put them in the best light. If you are presenting on parenting and you spend 30 minutes talking about all of your successes and none of your failures (like when you forgot Timmy in the Target dressing room while you went to Starbucks) the audience will not only grow bored but feel bad about not being a great parent. Vulnerability is showing the audience who you are.

Courage: We have these talks we give. These standard talks on whatever we are really good at: finances, college-prep, writing resumes, networking, etc. And we give them and we give them again. We have this nagging feeling that maybe we should freshen them up, but in the back of our minds we hear this voice saying, “Don’t! It works! Don’t add to it! Don’t change it! What if it doesn’t ‘work’ anymore?” Being wholehearted means having the courage to speak your voice and listen to the call of change. We may have gather our courage and tweak so what we present doesn’t grow stagnant.

Worthiness: Sometimes when we are about appear in front of our audiences, this cold grip hits us. Who are you to present to these people? I once had to present to PhD level professors about foster youth and their needs in higher education. You would have thought I was the next target on “Firing Squad Auditions.” My mentor looked at me and she said, “You are here because you are the expert and we need this message oh so badly.” She patted my shoulder and I hit the stage. We have to remember that we are worthy of the message we carry and the world needs to hear what it is. 

Compassion: Whatever your message is, Excel spreadsheets or best practices for ER triage, it needs to have a layer of compassion because your audience is being brave in sitting in those chairs saying, “I don’t know this. Please help me.” Phrases that show compassion (and vulnerability—they are not easily separated.)

  •      I struggle with this. . .
  •      This is still difficult for me to talk about . . .
  •      We need to be kinder to ourselves . . . we can be our own worst enemy. .  .
  •      When it gets frustrating, that’s when you’re learning. . . 

And this journey is never completed, as much as I’d like to say it is—it’s a constant process, a time of reflection where we ask ourselves, “Is my message authentic? Is my heart in it? And what do I need to change?” 

But making those adjustments and making sure we are wholehearted in our presenting is worth more than the roar of the applause—any day. I’ve embedded her landmark speech on vulnerability below. Watch the craft of a personal story with how vulnerability is explained and exemplified. 

About Ryan McRae

Ryan McRae has presented all over the world from South Africa to Afghanistan. He has spoken and designed presentations for Fortune 100 companies and wants this tech-focused culture to be able to speak well and with confidence.

One Reply

  1. I learn something new every time I study vulnerability.

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